One CIMMS: Q&A with Kim Elmore

Kim Elmore

For the month of February, the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma is publishing a series of stories highlighting CIMMS’s past, present and future by highlighting its employees. CIMMS is diverse because of its employees — who represent a variety of entities and areas of research. One Q&A segment will be published each Monday and Thursday in February.

Kim Elmore has worked at CIMMS for more than 20 years. Elmore is a research scientist supporting work at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. His focus includes radar techniques, statistical verification and extraction methods, as well as upkeeping the mPING app he was so instrumental in developing. The app — Meteorological Phenomenon Identification Near the Ground — allows users to anonymously submit weather reports for their location to help NOAA National Weather Service forecasters and NSSL research.

Q: What is it about your job that interests and/or engages you?
A: The things that surprise me, because when I’m surprised, I’ve just learned I don’t know what I thought I did.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
A: I can read, or “copy,” Morse code in my head — or on paper — at 25-30 words per minute.

Q: What is the most memorable experience of your career?
A: I was among the first meteorologists to work directly with control tower air traffic controllers in the Classify Locate and Avoid Wind Shear, or CLAWS project. I was in the Stapleton control tower on July 11, 1988, and was responsible for handing off an experimental radar-based wind shear warning to the final approach controller. A DC-8 airliner decided to go around based on that warning, yet even at full power, the airliner came within about 50 feet of the ground and nearly a mile short of the runway.

Q: Where is your favorite place to be?
A: I have several, all ephemeral: piloting my 1946 Cessna 140 on final approach to a grass runway with the window open on a warm spring evening. Or, with my family at the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Or, standing in an empty field, listening to the snow fall. Or, the smell of rain as I’m overtaken by a gust front at the approach of a spring thunderstorm. Or, by my radios on a cold winter night, the air perfumed with the sound of Morse code from places far away.

Elmore at the National Weather Association annual meeting in 2016.

Q: What is the best book you’ve ever read?
A: Only one? OK: “Fate is the Hunter,” by Earnest K. Gann.

Q: What are you most proud of during your time at CIMMS or what is the most significant achievement of your career?
A: Introducing the Linear Least-Squares Derivative estimation technique — a statistical method for estimating gradients in fields — to the suite of WSR-88D algorithm techniques. The gradients in fields are things like half vorticity or half divergence — both related to tornado detection — or spatial gradients in reflectivity which help with identifying gust fronts, or gradients in dual-polarization fields. Where there are spatial changes in these fields is usually where something “interesting” is happening. Another way to describe this is that it may be thought of as a way to find ridges in a field. Think about a field of numbers as you would a rug or carpet — this is a way to find wiggles in the surface of the rug or carpet.

Q: How do you define success?
A: I have succeeded when knowledge I have gained and disseminated is applied in meaningful ways.

Q: What is your personal philosophy?
A: If we could do all this by ourselves, we wouldn’t need each other.

Q: How did you get into your field?
A: I love aviation and flying. As such, I must fly through the atmosphere and it’s best to learn something about the weather that stalks my every flight. As I did, I became captivated by weather and remain so to this day.

Q: What advice would you provide young professionals or others in your field?
A: Embrace every instance — every event that surprises you. Being surprised is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about: it’s an opportunity to learn something new! Or, unlearn something you thought you knew. In the same spirit, remain open to new, to you, ideas and new, to you, approaches to solving problems.

Kim Elmore, bottom of photo, participating in NOAA’s Hazardous Weather Testbed in 2001.